The life of an apartment property manager can be unpredictable at times, acknowledges Wendy Wagner.
An air-conditioning unit can go out in the middle of a hot night or a water heater could burst, or in a more drastic situation, a unit might catch fire because of an electrical problem.
Fortunately, those issues are far and few between, leaving Wagner the more pleasant tasks of scheduling maintenance, working to ensure her complexes are filled and, ultimately, making certain residents are happy in their apartment homes.
Wagner, 31, is a property manager with Greystone Properties, a leading apartment development firm based in Columbus. She oversees a staff of nine people split between Greystone at Columbus Park and Greystone Maple Ridge. Before that, she managed Greystone at Country Club.
Overall, the Columbus resident has been with Greystone seven years, working her way up the ranks. It's an occupation that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says is growing "fast as average," with an estimated 35,000 new property management positions needed by 2022. There are about 297,000 nationwide now.
The median annual salary of the occupation is $52,610, according to the BLS. But the range can be wide depending on the market and company, the agency says, with the lowest 10 percent earning less than $26,600 yearly, with the top 10 percent taking home more than $113,400.
The Ledger-Enquirer talked with Wagner recently about her job, the skills needed to do it well, and the challenges she encounters. This interview is edited a bit for length and clarity.
You must be pretty good to be in charge of two apartment properties?
It's a lot of responsibility. I hope I'm doing good. I've been doing two properties since September (when she took over Maple Ridge off Schomburg Road).
Most managers don't handle two complexes?
Not every property manager has more than one. Some do. I think it's more leaning toward like being an area manager later on when you have more than one. We'll see. (laughs)
How do you become a property manager. You've got a marketing degree, which must help you?
It does help, especially dealing with people, because that's what you're doing all day, every day, is dealing with people. But I would say if someone wanted to get involved in property management, they would probably start out as a leasing consultant, which is what I did.
I did that for about a year and then got promoted to an assistant manager. You kind of learn the ropes as you get in each position, and eventually you'll be the property manager, if that's your goal. And, then, I guess it's just experience, really, because you learn what to do, what not to do, what to do better the next time.
Greystone at Columbus Park has to be popular with the shopping and restaurants. It's a classic case of location, location, location?
Location, yeah, shopping and right across the street are restaurants. And ours still looks brand new. We keep up with them. Every time someone moves out, we are painting, shampooing, trying to make sure they stay in good condition.
Columbus is just growing everywhere, so a lot of apartments have the shopping around them now. And especially in Atlanta they have that. I don't think it's too unique, it seems that's the trend.
Non-smoking apartments are growing in popularity. Do you have any here?
Not at this property, but at Maple Ridge I have two non-smoking buildings in phase two. They are popular, but no one really thinks about them until we say 'non-smoking' and then they're like, oh, well then I don't want the other one in smoking.
But a lot of people nowadays -- you would be surprised -- don't smoke inside. We're finding that even if it is a smoking building, they tend to go onto their patios.
What are the skills you need as a property manager?
I think it's to be able to multitask and manage your employees really well. Customer service is definitely a big priority. Our slogan at Greystone is anticipating and exceeding the residents' expectations. So we're always trying to think ahead of situations that may happen, trying to plan for the right thing so everything is taken care of.
You have to be analytical and a problem solver?
Yes. Everyday there could be a new situation that is different than one you've dealt with before because you're dealing with people. Or there are just random things that don't happen everyday that (make) you think outside the box and do what you think the company wants and the customer wants at the same time.
What happens if something breaks. Do residents call you in the middle of the night?
We have 24-hour emergency maintenance on call at all of the Greystones, so that's really good. We have a 24-hour answering service, so all they have to do is call the office number. They'll page maintenance and somebody will be there, like if their AC went out that night. But if there is something we couldn't fix that night, and it is really hot outside or something, they'll call me and we'll go put them in a hotel for the night and get it fixed the next day when everything opens.
So you do get a few late-night calls?
Yes, it happens, not everyday, but it happens.
What's the biggest challenge you face on a daily basis?
Probably just multitasking because nothing happens at a set time. But we have a really great team here and at Maple Ridge, where we just kind of work together. If something doesn't go as planned, it's hard to be able to adapt, but you have to be able to do that in the apartment industry. You may have your day planned out, but that is not how it's going to go.
Any memorable tough days that you recall?
The hardest day was probably when I was at Greystone at Country Club and we had a fire in the apartments. It was maybe three years ago and that was really tough, because I had never dealt with a fire.
But that's why we ask people to get renter's insurance to cover all of their personal items. Thankfully nobody was hurt and it was the apartment that got damaged and just some material stuff. But we had to work through moving people around and then renovating the apartment.
That was my hardest day, or a couple of weeks, I should say. And it's something that nobody could have expected. It was electrical and it just happened. That was probably my toughest experience.
There is an occasional fire at apartment complexes in the city. I would think inappropriate grilling on a balcony is a no-no?
That's another thing that's tough is explaining why certain rules are in place, like on patios you can't grill because it's covered and it can cause a fire. But a lot of times you still have residents who want to do it anyway. Then you have to go and kind of re-explain and 'educate' why you can't do it so they don't think you're just being mean.
I think as you get more experience, you gain more confidence, so as the years go by and you deal with it more, you have the confidence to know you're making the right decision. You also know if you tell a resident a certain thing, the company's going to back you up.
What's the most rewarding thing about your job?
The most rewarding thing is just working with good people. I love the company that I work for and I just feel like we have a lot of support here at Greystone. I've obviously been with them since college; I've only been away from Greystone for a year since I graduated, that was the year that I worked with AIG ... But you get to see how Greystone's reputation is really nice around the community, so when you tell people where you work you feel proud that you work there. I feel like it's a good career.
One would think there will be growth in the apartment industry with Baby Boomers aging and possibly opting for housing with less maintenance?
Well we do everything for you here. You don't have to do yard work. You don't have to do maintenance. We just do everything. You just pay your rent. (laughs)
We even do stuff like this Friday, we're doing Krispy Kreme doughnuts for residents, where we'll stand at the exit gate and pass them out for free to celebrate St. Patrick's Day, which is Monday. We're doing that here Friday and doing it at Maple Ridge on Monday. So we do different stuff like that for residents. We have movie nights. We'll have Chick-fil-A breakfasts and it's all free. So you get perks.
What would be the next step up in your career?
I think the next step would maybe be an area manager, where I took on more than the two properties that I have now. And even after that, I think you could move up to district manager. We (already) have a great district manager here at Greystone. I’m not real sure where I’ll go after property management. I might just stay in it for a while career-wise.